D’s Loquacious Late Spring Reads, 2010 Edition

Hey, kiddies. It’s been a while.

Can’t believe it’s June already! Hopefully this hot, new month will spawn some creativity that was lacking in May.

In the meantime, here are some my most recent reads:

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’d heard good things about this memoir by Azar Nafisi, in which she recollects her life as a young university English professor during the Revolution in Iran.

The book certainly opened my eyes – at least, to the way she saw the events unfold around her. I liked how she paired the works by her favourite authors with anecdotes from the rapidly changing world around her – a life in which the very love for her livelihood and for English literature was threatened. I learned how it was her love of books that kept her sane.

Come to think of it, this book reinforces for me – as a lifelong reader – how astounding the power of words can be,  how books play such a huge role in regimes and periods of oppression … and how the written word seems like a threat to those who try to control.

In any case, I encourage you to give this a try, if you haven’t already.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

I didn’t actually plan on reading this one anytime soon, especially so soon after reading Midnight’s Children, which took me a dog’s age to finish. And after feeling disappointed, the last thing I wanted was another long, winding yarn.

But I took a chance after an impr0mptu visit to the library … and I’m so glad I did YES! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The White Tiger takes on the form of a very long letter to the Chinese president, from a self-made entrepreneur in Bangalore. But it’s not too long before we learn the secrets of the protagonist’s so-called success.

The book is dark, with punches of humour to match. And life portrayed in the book is rough and tough from start to finish. Is it realistic? I can only place my trust in the author that it is, to some degree.

That aside, once I started reading, I made fairly quick work of devouring The White Tiger. I highly recommend it.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I was drawn to this book, not by anything I’d read – because I hadn’t – but simply by the cover. Who was Oscar Wao? What made his life so brief?

It literally was months before I got my grubby hands on Oscar Wao. And all I can say is, well, wow

If you like books written from a nerd’s perspective, in a sci-fi/fanboy style, complete with footnotes about Dominican history and generous helpings of Spanglish, this might be a book for you.

Oscar Wao is a thick chronicle of the de Leons,  dyfunctional Dominican-Americans with a rough family past. But a huge portion of the book is, obviously, dedicated to the title character – an obese young man with both a desire to make it as a fantasy writer … and no game whatsoever, when it comes to the opposite sex. The novel isn’t narrated by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, a family “friend”, and some narration from other family members who give scarred flesh and bone to the family’s backstory.

Some people may not like the footnotes at the bottom of a number of the pages. But I actually found them helpful and loved the sharp style in which they were written. 

But, still. Consider giving this book a try before either putting the book down or ploughing right through it. And I hope that if you do, that you’ll end up doing the latter.

The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Hal Niedzviecki

It’s perhaps coincidental – or uncannily relevant – that I’d just happened to complete my read of The Peep Diaries last week, amidst all this talk about Quit Facebook Day to protest the site’s new rules on privacy settings and whatnot. 

In his tome, Niedzviecki explores the realm of Peep culture – think of it as The New Voyeurism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and reality TV, amongst other things.

Through his conversations with YouTubers, bloggers, reality TV show participants, and even performing his own experiments, Niedzviecki tries to wrap his head around why people are obsessed with seeing, as well as being seen by, others. He ponders the different ways in which people watch others, whether it’s relevant, and and whether sometimes it simply crosses the line when it comes to issues of privacy … if lines can still be drawn.

Everyone’s got their own perspective on the matter, so that might colour what you think of the subject matter in Niedzviecki’s book. But if you’re like me – or the millions of other people spending hours online – it’s a good attempt at making you take a step back and soberly think about the times we live in.

Sorry this took so long to put out. I blame an enormous lack of motivation, paired with procrastination. But until I blog again, enjoy!

D’s Loquacious Long Winter Reads

I’ve been meaning to write this and have kept putting it off for various reasons. But better late than never, I say.

Here’s my latest list of books I’ve read over the past few months …

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza

The book chronicles the author’s harrowing experience as a young Tutsi woman trying to survive Rwanda’s bloody 1994 genocide – hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months – as well as her miraculous escape to freedom, unscathed.

I want to describe this book as simultaneously horrifying and astounding. But I’m not even sure those words do it justice.

Obviously the underlying story is how Ilibagiza found God during her time in that tiny bathroom, and how that she was going survive that hell on earth. But it doesn’t even matter whether you hold religious beliefs or not. To read how Immaculee managed to survive – physically, mentally and spiritually – for so long while sheer horror took place outside that bathroom window – is perhaps reason enough to tackle this book. 

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Not a new book, but one I’ve never read. Rushdie’s novel chronicles the lives of “midnight’s children” – those born at the moment of India’s independence in 1947. What isn’t immediately known is that these children have been born with unusual physical characteristics and special gifts or powers.

Narrated by the main character, Saleem Sinai – among those who hold the strongest powers because they were born precisely at midnight – the book follows the twisted history of Saleem’s family, and the act which determines fate, intertwined with fledgling India’s numerous conflicts and political struggles.

Of all the authors on this list, Rushdie has been the one I’ve wanted to read for the longest time, out of sheer curiosity.

Unfortunately, of the books on this list, this one took the longest to read – about two or three months. Not because of its size. At roughly 530 pages, it’s hefty, but not insurmountable, for an adult novel.

However, for someone not used to Rushdie’s way of storytelling – such as myself – some points along the story’s path were a bit too winding for my taste, even a bit too slow. Even trying to imagine the various scenes in my mind took some doing.

I can’t say I hated the book. But I found it a tad underwhelming, and it left me a bit disappointed.

Corked: A Memoir, Kathryn Borel Jr.

After such a long slog through Rushdie, I happily turned my attention to a book patiently sitting on my bedside table for weeks.

The first book from brand-spankin’ new memoirist (and colleague) Kathryn Borel, Corked is the story of Borel’s wine trip through France with her father Philippe, a hotelier and wine connoisseur.

As the trip winds through France, the book also takes us into Borel’s deepest thoughts about love, her attempts to learn about wine, and death. The trip is also opportunity she seizes to hash things out with Dad over a life-changing event five years earlier.

Having gotten flashes of Borel’s off-beat personality in real-life, I could hear her voice loud and clear as I turned the pages. I also recognize a couple of the people she talks about. Yes, I snickered here and there (hopefully where appropriate). But even though I can’t say I know her very well, Corked helped me understand a bit more about her. I appreciate who she is because of what she’s written.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

My personal goal for Black History Month was to take on a what was considered a classic novel – although acclaim at the time it was published was heavily divided, and then it fell out of sight until it was rediscovered again in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, who transforms from girl to woman (through the course of two marriages) in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s.

The book is supposed to be an ode to African-American culture and heritage (so says the explanation on the inside front flap of the jacket). It was a bit of a challenge to me, navigating the dialect, and trying to imagine what the characters were all thinking and doing. The male-female dynamic between Janie and her husbands was certainly something interesting. And ever-present were some the issues, such as class and skin tone – something that seems to be around, even in this day and age.

I wasn’t bowled over, but I’m glad I gave it a read anyway. It’s not a long book, so I’d recommend anyone to give it a go.

C’est tout, y’all. Maybe I’ll find some meatier morsels to tackle for the spring.

Happy reading!

Why I Send Cards

While at work last weekend, I was trolling the Internets, when I turned my attention to the Globe and Mail’s Web site and stumbled onto the latest column (at the time) from Leah McLaren, about why she doesn’t send Christmas cards.

And, I admit, her points are all valid. When your insurance company feels the need to send you a card (to keep their business with you ongoing), and when all forms of social networking makes the old idea seem antequated … not to mention trying to reduce your carbon footprint by generating less junk than necessary … it sucks all the intent out of doing it in the first place.

But you know what? WASP, I am not. (Or at least, I don’t think so – unless this makes me a BASP). But here are a few reasons why it’s one yearly habit I’m not quite ready to let go of:

It’s my own little tradition. I find the older I get, the Grinchier I get. Christmas music in November annoys me to no end. And friends who start the countdown to the holidays in JULY? I find them certifiable. So when December hits, I find I’m not getting into the spirit until I sit myself down with a box of cards, some stamps, and those address labels that never seem to finish. And then, it’s on.

I want to brighten someone’s day. I guess I’m one of those “good” people that make people like Leah McLaren feel bad. But it’s really not my intent. I really DON’T care if I get a card back. I only hope that it’s a pleasant surprise to someone I know, to receive a piece of mail that ISN’T a bill or a piece of bulk mail trying to get you to sign up for yet another credit card, or charity, or bogus magazine. And for a two-week period before it goes into the trash or recycling bin, it’s a bit of holiday spirit. It’s the thought that matters.

I get to practice my handwriting. McLaren mentioned social networking as being a major reason which eliminates the reason for sending cards. Here’s the downfall of online social media – or even the online communication/texting age we live in. Nobody writes ANYTHING with their hands anymore. When was the last time you wrote something down? And I’m not talking about a grocery lists or filling out forms, or anything like that. When was the last time a friend or family member sent you something in writing? It’s just not done.

(I do admit, though, I really need to work on WHAT I write, when I write those cards. Maybe getting blank cards would work.)

That’s my personal philosophy. What’s yours?

D’s Loquacious “Change of Season” Reads

Hey, peeps!

This was supposed to be my late summer book list. But as you may have read in the entry before this one, time hasn’t been my best friend as of late.

No matter. Here’s what I had managed to read before I had to put the books aside:

blubbercoverBlubber, Judy Blume

This is one from my personal collection, which I got in elementary school. Storyline is pretty basic: it’s a few months in the life of a fifth-grade class – chronicled through the eyes of 10-year-old Jill – who decide to pick on overweight classmate Linda following a school report.

The title, of course, is the cruel nickname they bestow on her. It’s a story about bullying. Of course, it doesn’t stop there – when the tables are turned, it’s really when the narrator’s eyes are opened to how people’s allegiances to their friends can change in the blink of an eye. 

Having re-read it as an adult, it just confirms for me that (1) I wasn’t really paying attention when I read it as a kid and (2) I appreciate it more as an adult. Kids can be cruel and can turn on you in the blink of an eye. Sadly in some circles, the cycle of meanness doesn’t really stop in adulthood – it’s just applied differently.

 

lambcoverLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore

I saw a friend of mine reading this at the cottage a few summers ago; this summer, it finally was my turn to read it. 

As the title suggests, the novel is supposed to be the “lost” gospel of Levi, known also as Biff, childhood friend of Jesus Christ – and the “missing piece” of the puzzle as to what on earth happened to Jesus in the time between his birth and the beginning of his ministry, leading to his cruxificion.

As the author explains in his afterword, it’s merely a story – and a fun one at that. And if you don’t have a sense a humour when it comes to Christianity, you shouldn’t read this book. It’s got everything – spirituality, sex, violence … and a little kung fu.

 

optimistbookcoverThe Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life, Laurence Shorter.

I decided to change it up a bit and immerse myself in a little non-fiction.

I first heard about Laurence Shorter and his book after seeing him interviewed one late night months ago on The Hour with host George Stroumboulopoulos.

The basic premise of the book is what the title suggests. But beneath this quest for optimism amid all the bad news in the world, is Shorter’s own personal two-year quest to find happiness. And for all the dozens of people he talks to, the distances he travels, and the equations he tries to formulate to quantify the secret to true optimism, the answer he arrives at doesn’t seem to be the one he expects.

I love just the way the book is written, using Shorter’s quirky personality to move the narration along. It works. It’s one I’d recommend reading.

I’d hoped to have a longer list, but you know .. life happens. Enjoy and happy reading until next time!

I’mma Let You Finish

letchufinishUsually, I don’t make a habit of talking about memes that last as long as it takes to heat up a bag of microwave popcorn. 

But to complement my buddy Phil’s (completely justified) rant about how Kanye West crowned himself King of All Douchebags at MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday …

And because this joke will be absolutely stale by Friday …

I could NOT let this day pass without posting the following links to these short-living blogs …

Namely this and this.

I’m doing it now, so I don’t have a delayed, outburst of my own somewhere inappropriate (like work) next week.

Plus, if you don’t at least smirk at one of these, there’s a big, black hole where your sense of humour should be.

Thank y’all for your time :).

PETA’s New Billboard

And speaking of billboards …

THIS is what I’d call an offensive ad.

fatphobic-much

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also reinforces my continuing practice of eating meat and wearing leather.

No, but seriously. It’s derogatory to women, to issues of body image, and to whales, in my honest opinion.

Here’s the link to Shameless magazine’s blog, who stumbled across this.  

I now leave this open to comments.

D’s Loquacious July Reads

Hey y’all …

It’s been a bit busy for me lately, but I’ve been making a point of reading when I can. Here’s the next batch of books I finally got around to:

 

alchemistbook2The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard people say, “I LOVE The Alchemist!” when talking about this book. I finally understand why. And I also LOVE this book.

It’s an eloquently written tale about a Spanish shepherd boy who leaves everything he knows to search for a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. He also learns valuable life lessons along the way, through the people he meets and the obstacles he faces. 

It’s a philosophical book, about following your dream, and listening to your heart. And it’s a fast read.

It’s taken me months to get around to reading this book. But I think now was the perfect time to read it. I’d definitely recommend it, if you haven’t read it already. 

 

high_fidelity2High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

This one, strangely enough, I came across while at a friend’s cottage last month. I remember when the movie came out – I must’ve had a thing for John Cusack, because I was determined to go see this movie.

I still have yet to sit down and watch it. But it’s on The List (which is a LONG one, by the way). In the meantime, I’m glad I read the book first.

What to say about this book? It’s about relationships. And music. But mostly relationships. It’s also about this central character that does and says ALL these things that give you absolutely NO reason to even respect him, never mind like him.

But still you have to read on, giving him the benefit of the doubt, in the hope he changes or has some sort of redeeming quality in the end. And no, I’ve never read any other Nick Hornby novel, so this probably makes my assessment a naive one, right? But it’s a good read nonetheless.

 

whatbook2What Is The What, Dave Eggers

I just finished this one a couple days ago. There are so many words I could use to assess this book. But I’ll simply start with “wow”.

The novel is based on the true story of Valentino Achak Deng – a Sudanese refugee and one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The narrative flip-flops between Deng’s current struggles in his adopted homeland five years on, and his horrific memories of the civil war and his flight from the conflict.

I found some of what was described very hard to read at times, but necessary in order to understand. It’s always difficult to comprehend just how cruel human beings can be to one another, over what start out as small things. And it’s definitely an eye-opener to anyone who ever thought Darfur has been the only horror to befall that country.

It also got me interested in knowing a bit more about Deng. As it turns out, he has his own non-profit organization, which goes towards helping the Sudanese people both in the U.S. and in Sudan. Among the projects, the foundation has built a secondary school in Deng’s home town.  

If you want a seriously good read, pick up this book. It’s worth every single one of its 475 pages.

That’s all for now. Happy reading, bookworms!